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Russia/Kyrgyzstan: Foreign Ministers Discuss Direction Of Future Ties

Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva is greeted in Moscow by her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov Barely three weeks after street protests toppled the government in Kyrgyzstan, Kyrgyz acting Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva met today with her Russian counterpart in Moscow. The talks focused on Russia's assistance in normalizing the political situation in Kyrgyzstan and on the protection of its interests there.

Moscow, 11 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- As Russian and Kyrgyz political leaders have been eager to emphasize over the past weeks, both countries view themselves as long-standing allies and strategic partners.

So it is no coincidence that Roza Otunbaeva's first trip abroad as acting foreign minister took her to Moscow.

Russia still largely considers former Soviet states as part of its natural sphere of influence.

However, the Kremlin faced criticism in the West for its aggressive attempts at containing the massive street protests that recently toppled the governments in Georgia and Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was, in particular, blamed during Ukraine's electoral crisis last year for congratulating the Kremlin-backed candidate on his victory before results were announced. The candidate eventually lost in the repeat of the election.

The role of Russia in the Kyrgyz crisis, however, has been one of mediation.

That has been welcomed by many observers as a clear improvement of Russia's politics in former Soviet countries.

Aleksei Malashenko, a Central Asia expert at the Carnegie Center in Moscow, praised Russia for displaying more neutrality and diplomacy in the Kyrgyz crisis.

"I think Russia acted more cleverly. Moscow didn't particularly shout that this [protest] was the result of the West's influence and that some evil people who might have received money from Soros came to power, and so on and so forth," Malashenko said. "After the idiotism that took place with Ukraine, Moscow, thank God, has learned.”

In mid-March, Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek was the scene of chaotic demonstrations after the opposition said recent parliamentary elections had been rigged. Thousands of protesters stormed the government, leading to the ousting of President Askar Akaev.
Kyrgyzstan is eager to retain friendly relations and dynamic trade ties with its top trade partner.

Moscow, which backed Akaev during his presidency, has been offering the former leader refuge since the protests.

Analysts agree that the sudden disintegration of Akaev's government is unlikely to affect Russian-Kyrgyz relations.

In the aftermath of the Rose and Orange revolutions, Georgia and Ukraine sought to distance themselves from Moscow and move closer to Europe. But Malashenko said Kyrgyzstan's new government is in a position to do both.

"In the near future, [Kyrgyzstan's] relations with Russia won't change much, they may even consolidate, but relations with the West will strengthen at the same time," Malashenko said. "I think that Kyrgyzstan is now capable of consolidating relations in both directions."

Kyrgyzstan is eager to retain friendly relations and dynamic trade ties with Russia, which is currently its top trade partner.

Sergei Markov, head of the Institute of Political Studies in Moscow, said Russia also has a strong interest in helping foster stability in Kyrgyzstan.

"Instability in Kyrgyzstan could lead to an outbreak of Islamism in Kyrgyzstan, especially in the south and to an increase of the drug mafia's power," Markov said. "The colossal production of narcotics in Afghanistan under the Americans is spreading to Central Asia, and from there to Russia and Europe."

Kyrgyzstan is also of strategic importance to Russia and the United States, both of which have military bases in the country.

On the eve of her meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Otunbaeva said Kyrgyzstan was, in her words, "thankful" to Russia for its help in handling recent events in Kyrgyzstan.

Speaking to reporters today, she said Kyrgyzstan's interim President Kurmanbek Bakiev would meet with Putin at the Commonwealth of Independent States summit in Moscow on 8 May.

She added that the new Kyrgyz government is not planning to shut Russia's military base in Kanta.

Lavrov, for his part, declared his country would continue to assist Kyrgyzstan in regulating the political situation in the country.

The talks also touched on ways to protect the interests of Russians residing in Kyrgyzstan and creating favorable conditions for Russian business in the republic.

The meeting coincided with the ratification of Akaev's resignation by the Kyrgyz parliament. Kyrgyz Deputies today also set the upcoming presidential election for 10 July.